Mystery Giver had been a bit of a mystery to Team Block this year. Coming into Saturday's $150,000 Robert F. Carey Memorial at Hawthorne Race Course, the 5-year-old had but a single win in eight starts.
The Dynaformer gelding had excuses and he had some close calls. But just the one victory -- and that one was way back last February at Fair Grounds.
In the Carey, Mystery Giver turned it around. Running as usual from somewhere out in the clouds, jockey C.H. Marquez Jr. took the gelding six-wide into the stretch and passed all seven rivals. At the wire, he was 1/2 length ahead of another closer, Al's Dearly Bred. Major Rhythm, a major longshot, was third. The 1 mile on Hawthorne's green course took 1:34.70.
"This win has been a long time coming," said trainer Chris Block. "He's had a lot of hard luck this year. I think he would have won the Arlington Handicap (he was third, beaten 1 length) if he didn't get caught up a bit on the turn and he needs a clear trip."
Marquez, who went as wide as he had to for running room, also liked the trip. "He's a big horse," said Marquez, whose father won the Carey 19 years ago. "He needs clear running. It's hard to get him going again if he gets stopped. I would rather lose a bit of ground, like we did today, than try to get him started again."
In other weekend racing:
You can tab A Bit O'Gold as the early favorite for next year's Queen's Plate. The 2-year-old son of Gold Fever won Saturday's $250,000 (Canadian) Coronation Futurity by 1 1/2 lengths over Third Sacker, remaining undefeated in three starts. And the win came despite a difficult No. 1 post-position draw and some pace problems that had jockey Jono Jones going to the front sooner than he had planned. "He's a wonderful horse and he's got a huge, huge heart," said owner Day Phillips. While the Coronation Futurity marks a promising 2-year-old, the Futurity-Plate "double" hasn't been achieved since Norcliffe in 1975-76.
Also Saturday, One For Rose scored a gate-to-wire victory in the $175,000 (Canadian) Maple Leaf Stakes. The 4-year-old daughter of Tejano Run set a measured pace through the first half mile and easily coasted home first, 6 1/4 lengths ahead of Winning Chance. Final time for the 1 1/4 mile was 2:03.50.
Sunday, Willow Bunch scored her fourth consecutive win in the $150,000 (Canadian) Jammed Lovely Stakes. The 3-year-old daughter of Affirmed, with Patrick Husbands up, took charge turning for home and won by 5 3/4 lengths. She finished the 7 furlongs in 1:25.02.
Also Sunday, Byzantine used a late rally to win the $100,000 River Memories Stakes after the event was moved from the turf. And Open Concert romped to victory in the $100,000 Labeeb Stakes after that event also was moved to the sloppy main track.
The Cliff's Edge took command in the stretch run of Sunday's $100,000 Iroquois Stakes for 2-year-olds and won off by 7 3/4 lengths, raising Kentucky Derby hopes for next spring. The Gulch colt was second in the Kentucky Cup Juvenile earlier this fall but then finished sixth in the Lane's End Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland. Sunday, jockey Shane Sellers kept the colt behind the early speed. "He's just a talented colt and definitely in the 2-year-old picture and hopefully next year will get in the 3-year-old picture," said winning trainer Nick Zito. The Cliff's Edge ran the 1 mile in 1:35.57. Korbyn Gold was second.
Saturday, Stellar Jayne avoided a fallen rival in the stretch and went on to win the $100,000 Pocahontas for 2-year-old fillies by 2 1/2 lengths. Pace-setting Sweet Jo Jo broke down just as Stellar Jayne was preparing to challenge for the lead. Turn To Lass was second after the mishap. "I think we were going to run by her anyway," said winning trainer D. Wayne Lukas. "But I hate to see that." Sweet Jo Jo was euthanized.
Better Talk Now saved ground behind pace-setting Millennium Dragon in Saturday's $150,000 Knickerbocker Handicap. Then, as the field hit the stretch, jockey Edgar Prado swung the 4-year-old son of Talkin Man out for racing room and got him home first, 1/2 length ahead of Del Mar Show. Millennium Dragon held third and the favorite, Quest Star, waas fifth. Better Talk now ran 9 furlongs on "good" turf in 1:50.53. Prado said Better Talk Now "is not an easy horse to ride. You've got to keep him covered up." Trainer H. Graham Motion said Prado was the man for the job. "Any time you have Edgar on and you are in touch with an eighth of a mile to go, you feel pretty good," Motion said. He added that Better Talk Now may take the winter off.
In Saturday's $100,000 Turnback The Alarm Handicap, Pocus Hocus - leftover from Hallowe'en? - went for the lead when asked by jockey Jose Santos and drew off from her five rivals, winning by 5 1/4 lengths. Nonsuch Bay was second and Miss Linda third. Pocus Hocus, a 5-year-old Quiet American mare, ran the 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:50.67. The name derives from her dam, Cadabra Abra, by Al Hattab. The favorite, She's Got the Beat, was pulled up in the stretch and vanned off.
Sunday, Read the Footnotes hustled to the front in the $150,000 Nashua Stakes for 2-year-olds and, with urging from Jerry Bailey, extended his margin through the stretch to win by 2 1/4 lengths over Paddington. Who is Chris G. finished third. Read the Footnotes, a New York-bred by Smoke Glacken, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:36.48. The odds-on favorite, Value Plus, stumbled at the start, unseating John Velazquez. "I didn't need Johnny to fall off his horse," said winning trainer Ricahrd Violette Jr. He said he had planned to have Read the Footnotes track a pace duel. "Jerry is a good jockey to have on your side when you need to call an audible," he added.
Wednesday, the Big A got the stakes schedule off to an exciting start as During battled down the stretch with Unforgettable Max before winning by a nose in the $100,000 Discovery Handicap for 3-year-olds. Inamorato was third with the favorite, Congrats, a well-beaten fourth. During, a Cherokee Run colt, got the 1 1/8 mile on a muddy track in 1:51.18. "I thought I ran out of horse at the quarter pole," said winning rider Jose Santos. "I hit him left-handed and he just kept giving me more." The final furlong took 13.74 seconds.
Stanley Park circled the field on the stretch turn in Saturday's $100,000 Bay Meadows Derby, caught pari-mutuel favorite Bis Repetitas with a furlong to go and finished smartly to win by 2 1/2 lengths. Bis Repetitas held second and Kewen was third. Stanley Park, a Kentucky-bred son of Swain, finished the 1 1/8 mile on firm turf in 1:48.97 under jockey Eric Saint-Martin. "When I asked him on the second turn, he really responded," Saint-Martin said. "I was pretty sure I had the horses in front of me measured and he won pretty comfortably." Trainer John Shirreffs said the effort was on script. "We wanted to take him off he pace and get him to relax, which he did well," Shirreffs said.
Sunday, Very Vegas led all the way to a neck victory over Secret Corsage in the $60,000 Bay Meadows Lassie for 2-year-old fillies. The favorite, Church Editor, was third. Very Vegas, a Kentucky-bred Storm Boot filly, ran the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:37.35 with Russell Baze in the irons.
Vogue Girl led most of the way to a 3/4 length victory in Saturday's $100,000 Blue Hen Stakes for 2-year-old fillies. The Kentucky-bred daughter of Souvenir Copy remained undefeated with her third straight win, running 1 mile on a fast track in 1:38.81. The favorite, From Away, closed from off the pace to finish second and Quiet Down was third. Trainer Allen Iwinski said he probably will give Vogue Girl the rest of the year off to prepare for her 3-year-old campaign. "This was her first time around two turns and I think she should improve off this," he said.
Santa Anita Park
In the interim weekend between Breeders' Cup and Cal Cup, Rush Into Heaven rushed from last into the winner's circle in Saturday's restricted $70,000 Pinjara Stakes for 2-year-olds. Under Iggy Puglisi, the Wild Rush colt swung four- and five-wide to get to the front after saving ground to the second turn. He finished the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:37.38. Lucky Pulpit had an unlucky trip, just missing by a nose after repeatedly being blocked in the stretch. "If I would have got through, I would have won," said jockey Patrick Valenzuela. Added Publisi, "We were lucky to stay up with the field closing like that." Trainer Paul Aguirre said he still wants to try Rush Into Heaven on the dirt "because there's a lot of money to be made on the dirt."
Pleasant Honor got up a head of steam at the top of the stretch in Saturday's $45,000 Comet Stakes for 2-year-olds and roared home first, beating Scary Bob by 3 1/4 lengths. Dennisport was third. Pleasant Honor, a Florida-bred gelding by Double Honor, ran 6 furlongs in 1:10.74. The favorite, Relato Del Gato, was never involved, finishing next-to-last in the six-horse field.
Raymond's Dream rallied to the lead leaving the turn in Saturday's $40,000 Zydeco Stakes for fillies and mares and stormed home 2 lengths in front. Leslie's Love was second and Taylor's Queen third in an all-possessive trifecta. Raymond's Dream, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred mare by Prospect Bay, ran 5 furlongs on a fast track in 57.97 seconds.
Richetta, the heavy favorite, got to the front with a sixteenth of a mile to go in Saturday's $60,000 Heavenly Cause Stakes for state-bred 2-year-old fillies and cruised home first, 1 1/4 lengths ahead of Sea of Promises. Dance Fee was third. Richetta, a daughter of Polish Numbers, got the 7 furlongs in 1:24.04 with Ramon Dominguez aboard.
Cheerful Fortune got clear without too much urging from jockey Craig Williams to win Saturday's Ladies' Purse Handicap at Sha Tin in Hong Kong. Cheerful Fortune, sent to the post odds-on, was first by more than 2 lengths over Planet Ruler. Smart Winner was third. Cheerful Fortune is not entered for next month's Hong Kong International Races and trainer Andy Leung Ting-wah said he is not tempted to supplement him because of the longer distance. And, sadly, with 70,000 in the stands for "Ladies' Day" at the track, Cheerful Fortune is a gelding.